Ron Paul: Far Right or Far Left?
by Walter Block
Recently by Walter Block: Is Ron Paul Out of Date? No.
“If you want government to intervene domestically, you're a liberal. If you want government to intervene overseas, you're a conservative. If you want government to intervene everywhere, you're a moderate. If you don't want government to intervene anywhere, you're an extremist." ~ Joseph Sobran
Dick Morris accuses Ron Paul of being far left. This Fox News analyst and Republican strategist claims that Congressman Paul stakes out a position to the left of Obama. He states: "Ron Paul remains terrifying. He is really the ultimate liberal in the race. He wants to legalize drugs, repeal the Patriot Act, slash our military spending, pull out of Afghanistan… On these issues, he's way, way to the left of Obama. What makes him a conservative is hard to tell. But, whatever he is, he would be a disaster as the Republican candidate."
On the other hand the New York Times maintains that Dr. Paul is far right, in bed with neo Nazis, white racists and others of this ilk. This article links the Congressman now representing the 14th district of Texas, specifically, with "The American Free Press, which markets books like u2018The Invention of the Jewish People' and u2018March of the Titans: A History of the White Race,'" with "Don Black, director of the white nationalist Web site Stormfront," with "Far-right groups like the Militia of Montana," with "white supremacists, survivalists and anti-Zionists," with "the nether region of American politics," with "the John Birch Society," with "David Duke, the founder of the National Association for the Advancement of White People," and with "holocaust denier Willis A. Carto."
So which is it? Is the highly respected (in neo-con circles) Dick Morris to be believed, in which case Dr. Paul is an extreme leftie, practically a commie? Nor is he the only one to make this charge. In the view of the Washington Post, Ron Paul has "the foreign policy views of Jeremiah Wright." Or should we take seriously the New York Times (purveyor of the filth that its journalist Walter Duranty peddled to the effect that the U.S.S.R. was not engaged in mass murder during the 1920s; on this see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here) according to which this gentle man is a far rightie, practically a fascist? It is important that we be clear on the question of whether Ron Paul is an extreme right or left-winger, since the mainstream media seem fixated on one or the other of these accusations. Sometimes, both. As the Times also avers, he occupies "the nether region of American politics, where the far right and the far left sometimes converge."
My short answer is, "None of these criticisms are true." Dr. Paul is neither of the far right, nor of the far left, nor do these two ever converge.
For a more thorough reply to this question, we need to reconsider, and reject, the entire left-right spectrum, on the basis of which either of these labels are placed on people.
What is this left right spectrum? In order to see it, one must draw a line on a piece of paper, thus, and label the left side of it "Left," and the right side of it "Right." To wit, see figure 1:
Left Right Figure 1
Then, one must fill it in with various people, organizations. The idea, here, is that the further to the left (right) are a person's or an entities' views, then the further to the left (right) it is placed on this scale. For example, we know that Hitler was an extreme right winger, and Stalin an extreme left winger, so we place each of these murderers at the appropriate extreme end of this spectrum: Hitler to the right, and Stalin on the left. It is uncontroversial that Senator Bernie Sanders is a strong leftist, and Senator Rand Paul a moderate-strong rightist, so we place each of them nearer to the center of the diagram, the former nearer to Stalin, and the latter nearer to Hitler. No one would object to placing feminism on the left and the National Rifle Association on the right, so each of them takes an appropriate position (see figure 2):
Stalin Sanders Feminists NRA Rand Paul Hitler Left Right Figure 2
How do others place? Well John Boehner is a mild rightist, while Nancy Pelosi is a mild leftist. Our present Communist Party is far to the left, but not as far as Stalin, while the neo-Nazis are far to the right, but not as far as Hitler (both have been defanged, a bit). Similarly, Fox News is on the right, while CNN can be placed on the left. Another left — right pair consists of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. When we incorporate these new entrants, our spectrum looks like this (see figure 3):
Stalin Sanders Feminists NRA Rand Paul Hitler Left Commie King CNN Pelosi Boehner Fox Mal X NeoNazi Right Figure 3
Our spectrum is getting pretty crowded now, so we will not add any more people or organizations to it. However, a few comments at this point may be advisable. One can see even at this level of roughness that we do not have a precise measurement, such as inches, or degrees Fahrenheit. And, not only that. There might be quarrels on the left between placing entrants in this order: Stalin, Commies, King, Sanders, CNN, Feminists, Pelosi. Some might argue that feminists are "leftier" than is King, or Sanders. Similarly, on the right, it might well be maintained that Fox and Malcolm X should switch positions. Or that the NRA is to the right of Fox.
But this problem is as nothing as to the next. This can be illustrated when we introduce our next two, and last entrants: Mother Teresa and John Brown. Where do we place the former? Well, she was no moderate, so she cannot occupy space in the middle. Is she a right winger? Do not be silly. So, the only slot to assign her is on the extreme left, cheek by jowl with her political ally, Stalin.
Say what? If there is anything true, it is that Mother Teresa and Joseph Stalin do not belong on the same planet. A case can be made that they should not even be mentioned in the same sentence. One of them devoted his life to murdering innocent people, the other to caring for them, nurturing them. Two greater opposites would be hard to imagine.
And the same holds true for John Brown and his supposed soul-mate, Adolph Hitler. Brown was a deeply religious man, one might even say an early conservative evangelical, who hated slavery with a purple passion. Unlike other abolitionists, he thought that violent methods were justified against the organization that supported this "curious institution," namely, the U.S.A., and thus attacked a government fort in an attempt to end slavery. Malcolm X, during his most racist days, allowed that John Brown would have been the only white man welcomed into his Nation of Islam organization.
(If you don't like John Brown as an example of a "good" right winger, try Bill Gates. He is clearly in the 1% of wealth owners; heck, he is one of the richest men on the entire globe. Gates earned all of his money in the private sector. He was unfairly attacked by the big government anti-trust regulators. Or, so as to feature a female matching Mother Teresa on the left, there is Ayn Rand, another very wealthy person who earned all of her income in the market place, through the voluntary payments from those who purchased her many best-selling books. She venerated private property rights, free enterprise and capitalism.)
Let us now return to our left — right spectrum, considering only these four people (see figure 4).
Mother Teresa John Browne Left Stalin Hitler Right Figure 4
This diagram does violence to political economic reality in several ways. First of all, there was not a "dime's worth of difference" between our Nazi and our Communist. Both were cruel, inhumane, mass murderers. Yes, their rhetoric was slightly different, but their deeds were for the most part indistinguishable. (Stalin killed about double the number of people that Hitler did: 20 million versus 11 million, according to the best estimates; see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.) Both were socialists! One was a national socialist, the other an international socialist, but both were avowed socialists. (It is amazing that when Prince Harry wore a swastika, the mainstream media went apoplectic; but, seemingly, every third kid on most college campuses wears a Che Guevara "t" shirt, and no one objects.) In any fair assessment of these two men, they were soul mates. Twins. And, yet, according to the left right spectrum, they are as far apart from each other as it is possible to be.
Next, consider the Stalin — Mother Teresa relationship. This, too, is a gargantuan anomaly. There is nothing, nothing at all that the two of them have in common. They are polar opposites on the basis of any criterion anyone could mention. And yet, on the basis of the left right spectrum, they are twins. So much the worse for this way of measuring, or evaluating, political positions.
Matters do not improve very much at all when we consider the third combination, Mother Teresa and John Brown. In some sense, they were very different. One gave life, the other took it. But Brown attacked only soldiers guilty of upholding the inhuman system of slavery. In a sense then, an important sense, they were both on the side of the angels. Each was doing the Lord's work, properly understood. And, yet, we find them at opposite ends of the spectrum, when they belong much closer together.
As for the last pairing, yes, both Brown and Hitler took lives. But there the resemblance ends. The former did so in order to end slavery; the latter as part and parcel of the slave system he favored, organized and promoted.
If the left right spectrum makes no sense as a shorthand political economic heuristic, what can we put in its place? Some people use the Nolan Chart, but this too has grave short-comings: it measures only economic freedom and civil liberties, thus ignoring the third leg of the three legged stool of political economy: foreign policy.
A better way to look at this issue is with the help of a two dimensional cross. In figure 5, we maintain the left right spectrum as the unimportant part of the cross, and superimpose on it a vertical line, which we label "good" at the top and "bad" at the bottom:
Good Left Bad Right Figure 5
What is our criterion for good? It is adherence to the libertarian non aggression principle (NAP), combined with property rights based on initial homesteading and legitimate voluntary title transfers afterward: trade, gifts, inheritance, gambling, etc. And for bad? Acting incompatibly with the NAP.
Now, let us fill in the names of the four main characters in our little play (see figure 6):
Good Mother Teresa Ron Paul (civil liberties) Ron (foreign Paul policy) John Brown Ron Paul (economics) Left Stalin Hitler Bad Right Figure 6
Note that Mother Teresa and John Brown are equally good, as we have depicted them, because they are equally high up on the good axis. Brown used violence, but it was in behalf of the NAP, not incompatible with it. They represent different rhetoric, hence their opposite positions on the relatively unimportant left-right axis, which we still retain. Mother Teresa is very far removed from her fellow leftist, Stalin, as is Brown from his fellow rightist, Hitler. And Stalin and Hitler are at the very bottom of the good bad axis, as they should be, but far apart in terms of relatively unimportant style and idiom, as was also the actual case.
It cannot be emphasized enough how unimportant is the left right spectrum. According to it, a violin is right wing, and a guitar is left wing; beads and scruffy clothing are leftish, and tuxedos are rightish; rock and rap music belong to the former category, while symphonic offerings to the latter. Why? Because the first of these pairs are culturally associated with the one group, while the latter members of these pairs with the other. Silly, yes. Unimportant, yes. But, maintaining this left right axis in our cross does at least enable us to make sense of political economic reality.
Let us now return to Ron Paul's place in this mathematical space. Where does he fit in? Well, it depends upon whether we are talking economics, civil liberties or foreign policy. It is easy to place Dr. Paul as far as economic policy is concerned: right near where John Brown appears in Figure 6. Why? Who knows? Culture? History? But to favor free enterprise, limited government, private property rights is to be a right winger. (Where does crony capitalism or economic fascism appear? This system features a veneer of markets, but is of course not the real thing. So it finds its place somewhere above where Hitler holds forth in Figure 6.)
It is also non controversial where to place Ron Paul with regard to civil liberties. His deep, bitter and consistent opposition to the drug war, to the Patriot Act, to killing U.S. citizens without a trial, entitles him to real estate right near where Mother Teresa appears in Figure 6. Insofar as these considerations are concerned, Congressman Paul could be a card-carrying member of the ACLU — if the latter were more consistent with its own supposed philosophy; see here and here.
What about foreign policy? Is Dick Morris correct in labeling Ron Paul to the left of Barack Obama on foreign policy? Well, yes and no. Yes, in the sense that there is a strong anti-war element on the left, which did indeed oppose Bush's interventionistic wars. Shame on them for not equally opposing Obama's indistinguishable imperialistic foreign policy (libertarians are the only ones to oppose both, equally.) But no, given that there is also a strong old right tradition of opposing offensive, in contrast to defensive war making (this is a distinction seemingly beyond the ken of Ron Paul's competitors for the Republican nomination.) This is the old right of Taft, Boren, Rothbard and others. So, where to place Congressman Paul in terms of foreign policy? Right up there at the top, half way between Mother Teresa and John Brown, neither right nor left, because of this virtual tie.
Much as it pains me to agree with Yahoo.com on anything, given that they have been bitter and unceasing critics of Dr. Paul, I must in all fairness agree with Yahoo when they say of Ron Paul, "On the campaign trail, he reaches out to Tea Party supporters on the right and Occupy Wall Street supporters on the left." Such an insight is very compatible with where we have placed him on our political cross-spectrum. This is precisely why he will badly beat President Obama for the presidency in November 2012, if he can but win the Republican nomination: Dr. Paul will out left Obama on civil liberties, out right him on economics, and win the votes of all those sick and tired of our endless wars; and this includes preeminently the military (see here, here, here, here and here), plus many independents, and disaffected Democrats and Republicans to boot.
Do the right and the left "converge" as the New York Times suggests? Not a bit of it. If we utilize the cross analysis, we can see that left and right are relatively unimportant. They convey style, not substance. As we have seen, the real indication of political economic reality is the north-south axis. And here, there is no "convergence," neither at the top nor the bottom. Style and rhetorical differences divide people both at the top and bottom of our chart. And, our man Ron perches at the very pinnacle on all three criteria: economics, foreign affairs, and personal liberties.
Is there any sense at all to be made of the left right distinction? Yes, if we break things down into these three constituent elements. For example, on economics, conservatives on the right are slightly more in favor of free enterprise than are liberals (they now characterize themselves as "progressives"; it is hard to keep track of what they want us to call them) on the left. When it comes to civil and personal liberties, this is reversed. Insofar as foreign policy is concerned, in my judgment there is a rough tie; both have very many bad elements, and a few good ones. If this distinction is applied not holus bolus to everything, but to one of these elements at a time, then there is some limited coherence to the left-right distinction.
Now for the $64 thousand dollar question: where oh where do we place Obama and his Republican opponents for the Presidential nomination? Rather than attempting to distinguish between them: Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Michelle Bachmann, Jon Huntsman, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, I will consider an amalgamation of them all. There is not that much difference after all between any of them. For good measure, I'll toss in some of the Republican candidates from 2008 who are no longer running now, such as Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee and the eventual winner, John McCain. Again, these are all birds of a feather. What have you got when we consider them all together? Why, the Republican Establishment, or RE (Note, I do not include Gary Johnson here; I consider him quite a few cuts above the rest, apart from Ron Paul, of course. In a previous writing, I claimed that Ron Paul earns a 97% on the good-bad scale, Gary Johnson weighs in at 65%, and the REs perch below the line in figures 5-7, at 10%). So, how does Obama stack up against RE?
Good Ron Paul (civil liberties) Ron (foreign Paul policy) Ron Paul (economics) Left Obama (civil liberties) Obama (economics) R.E. (economics) R.E. (civil liberties) Obama (foreign policy) R.E. (foreign policy) Bad Right Figure 7
In my view, Obama is slightly better than RE on civil liberties. I know all about the present president's support for the Patriot Act, NDAA and SOPA. But, I insist, RE would be even worse, at least if we are to believe half the rhetoric from this season's Republican debates. On the other hand, RE is somewhat to be preferred on economic issues. Both Obama and RE are died-in-the-wool interventionist fascists, pretty much equally so, but the former includes quite a dollop of egalitarianism and pro unionism that is less emphasized amongst the latter. Similarly, I place Obama higher than RE on foreign policy. With McCain at the till, I fear, we would have already used nuclear weapons on Iran, something that Dr. Paul's present opponents, I think, are frothing at the mouth to do. (I supported Obama over McCain in the last election for this very reason.) Happily, Obama has so far not done so. This is why, if there were only two choices open to me, the present president of the U.S. and any of the REs, I would support the former in 2012.
Let me conclude by addressing the issue of whether Ron Paul is in bed with invidious members of the hard right, the people and groups mentioned by the New York Times at the beginning of this column, because he accepts their endorsements and their money. Or, as Dick Morris charges, that charge that Ron is really in the clutches of people to the left of Barack Obama, insofar as drug and foreign policy is concerned.
Reason asks: "Is Ron Paul Responsible for His Supporters’ Views?" Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, it reaches no conclusion in its editorial on this crucial topic.
What does Congressmen Paul say on this matter? Here, a spokesman of his avers in his behalf: “If people hold views that the candidate doesn’t agree with, and they give to us, that’s their loss.”
Here, Dr. Paul himself states: "If they want to endorse me, they're endorsing what I do or say — it has nothing to do with endorsing what they say…" And again "I'll go to anybody who I think I can convert to change their viewpoints… I'm always looking at converting people to look at liberty the way I do."
Ron Paul will go to the very gates of hell (left Communist or right Fascist, it matters not) and try to convert the Devil himself to the freedom philosophy. As far as I am concerned, this is an altogether virtuous stance to adopt.
Dr. Block [send him mail] is a professor of economics at Loyola University New Orleans, and a senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He is the author of Defending the Undefendable and Labor Economics From A Free Market Perspective. His latest book is The Privatization of Roads and Highways.